Excitement is building on the Mardyke Walk as Presentation Brothers College gear up for tomorrow’s Munster Schools Senior Cup final.
Just under a fortnight after the semi-finals threw up an all-Cork final in Musgrave Park, there has only been one thing on the minds of those passing through the hallways at Pres.
Add in the fact that they are facing arch-rivals Christians, and it is sure to be a wonderful occasion as these two Cork rugby powerhouses do battle on St Patrick’s Day.
“There’s great excitement all around the place, our kids love playing Christians. Everybody is looking forward to it,” said PBC head coach Brian McMahon.
The feverish atmosphere within the grounds is one great attractions of Senior Cup, with the young age groups in both schools preparing as diligently for the big day as the players.
“They’re practising their chanting and their songs so it’s great, especially for the younger kids, who mightn’t have experienced it before,” McMahon says.
But while the supporters can get wrapped up in the pageantry, there is a need for the teenagers involved to block out the carnival atmosphere.
“We’re treating it as just another game to be honest,” McMahon insisted. “The players are focused on their roles in the game.
“The main hype is around the younger kids in the school — it’s all part of the occasion.”
While their opponents CBC had a thumping win in their semi-final, it was the opposite for Pres.
Facing an in-form Bandon Grammar side, PBC were struggling for large periods and when Grammar prop Conor Heaney touched down, followed by a Jack Crowley conversion, the west Cork side led 18-12 with 65 minutes on the clock.
However, 2017 champions PBC showed great resilience and spirit to surge down the field and score a try of their own. Then, up stepped Louis Bruce to nail the conversion to send his side into a final where they bid to become the first school to win 30 Senior Cup titles.
The juxtaposition in semi-final performances means that for many, Pres come into this game as underdogs.
“We have realistic expectations, we have gone way further than we ever thought we would this year. To get to a final alone is a win for us, it’s been an achievement,” admitted McMahon.
“In fairness to Tommy (Crowe, CBC coach) and the boys up in Christians their scoring rate is phenomenally big this year,” he said, referencing the fact that CBC have racked up 69 points in two matches to date.
Pres’s progress this far has come in spite of their sluggish starts. McMahon and his coaching staff will have been working hard over the last few weeks to ensure their team hits the ground running.
In the quarter-final, Rockwell went 6-0 up and wasted a few try opportunities. Last time out, Bandon were much better out of the blocks. For Pres, it is about breaking the game down into phases and get on top in every facet.
“We try to bring it back to every five minutes – the first five and then every five minutes after that,” the coach said.
“These occasions are big, these are young kids, we have a very young team. They will be well prepped but there will be a settling in period — it will be the same for CBC.
“We’re hopeful that the boys will start a bit better than we did in the last two games. It’s a massive occasion, it’s how both sets of teams react to the occasion and that’s something we’re going to have to wait and see.”
While Pres have none of the starting team that won the Cup two years ago, there are a few connections.
Winger Darragh French’s brother Sean scored all 11 points in that famous win over Glenstal.
Adam O’Connor came on from the bench in the semi-final win and his older brother Brian also played in PBC’s last Cup success.
“That’s the thing with schools rugby, there are no two consecutive years where you are going to have the same team.
“It’s great to have the connections still there. Captain Louis Bruce and Eoin Quilter were on the extended panel in the 2017 campaign.”
Both have been standout players for Pres this year and that experience will be key as Pres face their arch-rivals.
Pres will need to get every advantage they can muster as they face off against a highly-rated Christians side in what is sure to be a memorable occasion at Musgrave Park.